NFL exec: U.S. Bank Stadium Wi-Fi network ‘in a strong place’ ahead of Super Bowl LII

A Wi-Fi handrail enclosure at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Like many football fans, I was jaw-dropping excited while watching the Minnesota Vikings’ dramatic walk-off touchdown win in last Sunday’s playoff game against the New Orleans Saints. Unlike many football fans but probably more like our readership, my next thought while watching the celebrations was: I hope the Wi-Fi holds up!

According to a top NFL IT executive who was at the game, the Wi-Fi network at U.S. Bank Stadium was more than up to the load applied to it by the Vikings’ exciting win and victory celebration, a good stress test ahead of the stadium’s hosting of Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4. “There were an amazing amount of [Wi-Fi] connections” after the game’s end, said Aaron Amendolia, vice president of IT in the NFL’s office of the CIO, in a phone interview Thursday.

The “massive spike” in connectivity after the game’s exciting conclusion produced numerous social media posts from fans present, mainly on Facebook and Snapchat, Amendolia said. Though he didn’t have full networking statistics from the game, Amendolia did share one interesting number, the fact that there were approximately 37,000 unique connections to the Wi-Fi network during the game — a total greater than that at last year’s Super Bowl LI in Houston, where 35,430 fans out of 71,795 in attendance at NRG Stadium used the Wi-Fi at some point. Attendance at Sunday’s playoff game in Minneapolis was 66,612.

“I feel we’re in a strong place now” with the Wi-Fi network at U.S. Bank Stadium, Amendolia said. “We’re hoping to set some new records.”

Still no sign of bandwidth demand decline

Amendolia, part of the NFL’s networking team that ensures good connectivity at the league’s championship event, said testing work on the AmpThink-designed network (which uses Cisco Wi-Fi gear) started last year, and then ramped up through the current season.

Seen in the main concourse at U.S. Bank Stadium: Two IPTV screens, one Wi-Fi AP and a DAS antenna. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

“Starting with the presason [games] we had staff sitting in seats, doing Facebook, visiting websites,” said Amendolia. “The unique architecture in each stadium makes Wi-Fi [performance] unique. We had people sitting in odd corners, and next to big concrete structures.”

Ever since Wi-Fi has been a part of Super Bowls, the total data used and numbers of fans connecting have steadily increased each year, always setting current records for single-day use of a large venue network. At Super Bowl 49 in 2015, fans used 6.23 terabytes of data on the Wi-Fi network at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.; the next year, it was 10.1 TB of Wi-Fi at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.; and last year at NRG Stadium in Houston there was 11.8 TB of Wi-Fi data used. (Cellular data use on stadium DAS networks has also increased apace, from almost 16 TB at Super Bowl 50 to more than 25.8 TB last year.)

What’s interesting is that networking usage totals for games the following NFL season usually increase as well, not to Super Bowl levels but surpassing marks from years before. For this season’s opening game at the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium, the Wi-Fi network there saw 8.08 TB of data used, a mark that trails only the last two Super Bowls.

“Super Bowls set the benchmark for the next season,” said Amendolia, who agrees that there may never be an end to the growth.

“Even if [current] usage levels off, there’s new technology like augmented reality and wearable glasses,” Amendolia said. “How does that change the future?”

Miami Dolphins go long on multiple social-media platforms for Gase intro

The team website was just one of the vehicles the Miami Dolphins used in their multi-platform social media campaign for the hiring of Adam Gase. All images: Miami Dolphins (click on any photo for a larger image)

The team website was just one of the vehicles the Miami Dolphins used in their multi-platform social media campaign for the hiring of Adam Gase. All images: Miami Dolphins (click on any photo for a larger image)

Intelligent marketers of professional sports know they have to get their messaging to where the fans are – the stadium, their living rooms, and in today’s world, their smartphones. Small wonder, then, that the NFL’s Miami Dolphins chose multiple social media outlets in early January to introduce their new head coach, Adam Gase, in a multi-platform, social-cast event.

The Dolphins engineered a live Q&A session and broadcast the press conference with Gase that spanned Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, Meerkat and Snapchat. This multi-platform event, the first of its kind in professional sports according to the Dolphins, included video and text chat and was intended to reach online fans and encourage engagement, said the event’s planners, Jason Jenkins, senior vice president of communications and community affairs for the Dolphins, and Surf Melendez, managing director of content and creative services for the team.

Joined by his wife, Jennifer, and their three young children, Gase told fans that outside of football, he was most looking forward to the Miami weather. “It was 15 degrees when we left” Chicago, he said, where he’d been working as the Bears’ offensive coordinator. By the end of the press conference, the Dolphins’ Facebook video page registered more than 100,000 views, with a peak of approximately 11,700 simultaneous viewers, according to the Dolphins’ press office.

“The whole point of [of the social-cast] was to make sure that we were using our brand and all our platforms in an innovative way,” Melendez said. “Whenever we communicate or get the brand out there, we try to be innovative, this time with a live, social broadcast.” The team also streamed Gase’s introduction on its website and the Miami Dolphins official smartphone app; Melendez said the intention wasn’t to bypass the general media but to complement them.

md2“We have the luxury of experimenting and innovating because our owner, Stephen Ross, and CEO [Tom Garfinkel] are there supporting us,” Jenkins added. “This is a new place to be.”

Technical challenges for new approaches

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A new place, and a challenging one, at least technically. Melendez said the first requirement was making sure they had enough smartphones for all the different platforms. “We needed the right people and the right devices to make sure we got the right shot, that the audio was good, that someone was posting and someone else was monitoring the feed,” Melendez explained.

He and his department are constantly experimenting with these different technology to improve or fine-tune performance. “We had a dry run [for the Gase introduction]. But once it’s go-time, things happen, like Wi-Fi,” he laughed.

Live video was another of the Dolphins' social-media tactics

Live video was another of the Dolphins’ social-media tactics

Still, the approach seemed to be a hit with Dolphins’ fans. “As we were broadcasting live, the responses were, ‘Wow, this is tremendous, they’re getting me in there’ [the Dolphins’ offices],” Melendez said. “This is a new and fresh place to be.”

In addition to reach, impressions and views, the Dolphins are closely monitoring how social media grows the brand and creates new revenue. Like most businesses, the Dolphins conduct regular lead-generation campaigns; most have been telephone-based, according to Melendez, but that is quickly changing.

“We’ve done a couple dry runs on social media, where you can put out a call to action and target a specific audience for leads,” he said. “The response was 4-5 times as fruitful for good, qualified leads.”

As a new medium, social media requires continuous education with the Dolphins’ partners on how to use the platforms. “We then educate our sponsors that social does X, Y and Z and how that benefits them,” Melendez said.

But the door for social education swings both ways, according to Vince Pannozzo, social media manager for the Dolphins. “We work with the team and with Facebook and Twitter directly to talk about personal brands as well as best practices,” he said.

“Cheerleaders, too,” Jenkins hastened to add.

The next big test of the Dolphins social strategy will come when the NFL’s free agency begins in mid-March. “That’s going to be a fun time to tune into what we’re doing,” Melendez said. “Generally we’re taking a step back at the content we’re creating overall and how we’re broadcasting, quote unquote, because we’re looking at how to serve up things that we used to do on more traditional avenues. It will look different next season.”

Super Bowl XLIX sets new stadium Wi-Fi record with 6.2 Terabytes of data consumed

University of Phoenix Stadium. Credit: Arizona Cardinals.

University of Phoenix Stadium. Credit: Arizona Cardinals.

The Super Bowl is once again the stadium Wi-Fi champ, as fans at Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Ariz., used 6.23 terabytes of data during the contest, according to the team running the network at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

The 6.23 TB mark blew past the most recent entrant in the “most Wi-Fi used at a single-day single-stadium event” sweepstakes, the 4.93 TB used at the Jan. 12 College Football Playoff championship game at AT&T Stadium. Prior to that, pro football games this past season at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., and at AT&T Stadium had pushed into the 3-plus TB mark to be among the highest totals ever reported.

The live crowd watching the New England Patriots’ 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks also used about as much cellular data as well, with Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint claiming a combined total of 6.56 TB used in and around the stadium on game day. All three carriers were on the in-stadium and outside-the-stadium DAS deployments being run by neutral host Crown Castle. If those figures are correct (more on this later) it would put the total wireless data usage for the event at 12.79 TB, far and away the biggest single day of wireless data use we’ve ever heard of.

Apple OS updates still the application king

Handrails with Wi-Fi antenna enclosures from AmpThink. Credit: Arizona Cardinals.

Handrails with Wi-Fi antenna enclosures from AmpThink. Credit: Arizona Cardinals.

Mark Feller, vice president of information technology for the Arizona Cardinals, and Travis Bugh, senior wireless consultant for CDW, provided Mobile Sports Report with the final Wi-Fi usage numbers, which are pretty stunning for anyone in the stadium networking profession. According to Feller the new CDW-deployed Wi-Fi network with Cisco gear at the UoP Stadium saw 2.499 TB of data downloaded, and 3.714 TB uploaded, for a total of 6.213 TB of Wi-Fi usage. Bugh of CDW said there were 25,936 unique devices connecting to the network on game day, with a peak concurrent usage of 17,322, recorded not surprisingly at halftime.

Peak download usage of 1.3 Gbps was recorded before the game’s start, while peak upload usage of 2.5 Gbps was hit at halftime. The top applications by bandwidth use, Feller said, were Apple (mobile update), Facebook, Dropbox and Snapchat.

DAS numbers also set new record, but clarification needed

The only reason we aren’t yet trumpeting the 6.564 TB of reported DAS use as a verified record is due to the differences in clarity from each of the reporting providers. We also haven’t yet heard any usage totals from T-Mobile, so it’s likely that the final final wireless data use number is somewhere north of 13 TB, if all can be believed.

Parking lot light poles, Westgate entertainment district. Can you spot the DAS?

Parking lot light poles, Westgate entertainment district. Can you spot the DAS?

As reported before, AT&T said it saw 1.7 TB of cellular wireless activity from its customers on game day, with 696 GB of that happening inside the stadium, and the balance coming from the outside areas before and after the game. We’d also like to welcome Sprint to the big-game reporting crew (thanks Sprint!), with its total of 754 GB of all 4G LTE traffic used in and around the stadium on game day. According to Sprint representatives, its Super Bowl coverage efforts included 5 COWs (cell towers on wheels) as well as expanded DAS and macro placements in various Phoenix-area locations. The Sprint coverage included the 2.5 GHz spectrum that uses TDD LTE technology.

As also previously reported, Verizon Wireless claimed 4.1 TB of customer traffic in and around the stadium on game day, which Verizon claims is all cellular traffic and does not reflect any Verizon Wireless customer use of the stadium Wi-Fi network. Verizon also reported some other interesting activity tidbits, which included 46,772 Verizon Wireless devices used at the game, of which just 59.7 percent were smartphones. Verizon also said it saw 10 million emails sent on its networks that day, and 1.9 million websites visited, while also seeing 122.308 videos sent or received over wireless connections.

We’re still waiting to see if we can get usage numbers from the Super Bowl stadium app (we’re especially interested to see if the instant replay feature caught on) but the warning for stadium owners and operators everywhere seems to be clear: If you’re hosting the big game (or any BIG game), make sure your network is ready for 6 TB and beyond!

Levi’s Stadium update: Wi-Fi traffic steady at 2.3+ TB per game, Amazon and Google lead apps use

Scoreboard promo for the Levi's Wi-Fi network

Scoreboard promo for the Levi’s Wi-Fi network

Usage of the Wi-Fi network at the San Francisco 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium continues to hold steady at 2.3-plus Terabytes of data offloaded per game, according to the most recent statistics provided by the Niners’ network staff.

Though he’s no longer the team’s vice president of technology, former Levi’s network guru Dan Williams remains as a game-day consultant to the team, and he shared some recent network statistics with MSR, including some app usage marks that show Amazon Cloud Drive and Google APIs being among the top two applications being used over the Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi network.

According to Williams’ numbers, for the Niners’ Nov. 23 day home game against Washington, the Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi network had 22,095 unique users, 35 percent of the total attendance; the peak number of concurrent users was 14,700, reached at 2:50 p.m. (near halftime), and the total data used was 2.31 TB, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

During the Thanksgiving day game against the Seahawks, the network had 23,371 users (36 percent of attendees) who used 2.38 TB of data, with a peak of 16,800 concurrent users at 7:15 p.m.

Video-replay statistics from the Levi’s Stadium app apparently do better when there are more home-team highlights to watch. During the victory over Washington, 1,074 fans watched 4,885 replays, with the 30-yard TD pass from Colin Kaepernick to Anquan Boldin racking up 953 total views from 398 unique users — meaning many users are watching the same replay more than once (maybe showing it to people sitting around them?). For the Seahawks game, 1,407 fans watched 3,875 replays, with a Kaepernick pass to Michael Crabtree accounting for the most views, 487 total from 180 unique users.

The top 4 apps used by fans on the network varied a bit from the two close games, but according to Williams Amazon Cloud Drive was the top app for both recent games. For the Seahawks game, the next three top apps were Google APIs, Facebook and SnapChat, while for the Washington game the next three top apps used were stadium video, Google APIs and Apple iTunes.